Dependable Ally

A variety of Russian military platforms dominate the Indian Army

Rahul Bedi

Russia will remain relevant to Indian Army equipment requirements for several decades, despite India increasingly sourcing newer materiel from alternate sources like France, Israel and the US, in a feeble and indeterminate effort to modernise the force.

The army operates a preponderance of Russian military platforms — assorted anti-tank and air defence missile systems and varied ordnance — which will remain in service for another 20-25 years. This, in turn, will necessitate continual servicing, maintenance and upgrades by assorted original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

Russian troops during Exercise Indra 2013 in Rajasthan

“Russian-or Soviet-origin platforms, like tanks, artillery and infantry combat vehicles (ICVs) currently provide the Indian Army its firepower, and will continue to do so for many more years,” said military analyst Lieutenant General Vijay Kapur (retd). Consequently, Russian OEMs will remain central to the Indian Army’s inventories for the foreseeable future, he added.

Over 95 per cent of the army’s fleet of around 2,200-2,500 main battle tanks (MBTs) are Russian T-72 and T-90S variants — directly imported in completed and in kit form for local assembly and licence built — whilst its 2,000-odd Boyevaya Mashina Pekhoty (BMP)-1& 2 were similarly sourced.

Alongside, a large proportion of the army’s artillery assets include Soviet-era M46 130mm guns, awaiting an imminent upgrade to 155mm/45 calibre, in addition to a handful of D-30 122mm guns, dating back to the early Sixties, well past their retirement date.

The forces obsolete air defence assets, badly needing upgrades, replacements or both, are almost exclusively Soviet/Russian, as are a large number of its other missile systems, especially the jewel in the pack: the BrahMos supersonic surface-to-surface cruise missile, successfully inducted into the army in 2007.

Switching to alternate sources to replace such an assortment of Russian materiel is simply not an option for Indian military planners, as it would entail not only colossal expenditure but also a fully reworked support infrastructure that was completely unimaginable. Doubtlessly, it would be beset by inordinate and inconceivable delays, inbuilt into complex and inchoate ministry of defence (MoD) procedures.

“India can ill-afford any such possibility at a time when the security situation in its immediate, and extended, neighbourhood is perilous and rapidly deteriorating,” said Amit Cowshish, former MoD acquisition advisor.



Consequently Russia, he declared, is unlikely to be dislodged as the army’s principal weapon provider, even by a combination of France, Israel and the US, each of whom has individually increased their military exports to it in recent years. Russian defence companies, he added, will continue to play a major role, not only in sustaining and retrofitting existing systems, but in providing new ones too.

Generations of soldiers, weaned on Soviet, and later Russian weaponry for over four decades concurred, believing it had three fundamental advantages that were difficult to sidestep or ignore: low cost price, operational durability in climatic extremes and, above all, platform familiarity for succeeding lots of army personnel from rural and non-technological backgrounds and questionable educational qualifications.

Many Indian Army soldiers found Russian equipment easier to operate than the complex and technologically advanced western systems, which frequently malfunctioned in temperatures of minus 45 degrees Celsius in Ladakh and Siachen, and over 50 degrees Celsius during summer, in Rajasthan.

And though life cycle costing or the Verifiable Cost Model of assessing military equipment was gaining ascendency in the MoD’s selection procedures — particularly with regard to combat and rotary platforms — Russian land systems still enjoyed primacy with the Indian Army.

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